Obama meets with the National Security Council in the Situation Room of the White House in Washington, August 7, 2014.
Pete Souza / White House

On Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama authorized limited air strikes on militants in Iraq to stop their advance toward Erbil, where a number of U.S. diplomats, civilians, and military personnel reside. He also promised to send aid to refugees fleeing the militants’ advance. The next morning, warplanes struck the first targets as the United States rushed assistance to a Kurdish-speaking religious minority, the Yezidis, which had recently been pushed into the mountains by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Air strikes are undoubtedly necessary for the narrow purposes stipulated by Obama. But they will have a wide range of unintended consequences -- some relatively manageable, others less so.

Despite Obama’s carefully framed justification for the strikes -- to protect Americans and to help minorities -- the inadvertent beneficiary is the Iraqi government, which gets to retain its free-rider status. So far, Baghdad’s response to the current crisis has been the political equivalent of rearranging deck chairs on a plunging Titanic. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his allies have done nothing to salvage the Iraqi state, despite the selection of a new president and speaker of the parliament, or to fulfill the prime moral directive

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